Time For Lessons: How Not To Lose $1000 In Philippines

Apparently, Philippines and I don’t get along very well. Or it’s just travel misfortunes that hadn’t happened to me for the last 3 months decided to happen to me one after another right here in Philippines.

I’m tempted to write a whining post and to complain everything negative I experienced in Philippines. I actually feel like I’m becoming a very negative and skeptical-in-a-bad-way person day by day. This post will probably sound relatively negative compared to my other posts. Bear with me.

At the same time, though, I want to draw lessons from my negative experiences and to stay positive as well. I’m a writer and want to write something that inspires people. I’m not a ranter who just complains.

On 10 May, I left Hong Kong for Philippines. I had a great time in Hong Kong. I met some awesome people through Couch Surfing. I had some reunions with my old friends. I made new friends at Kowloon BJJ, which I think is a great Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club you should check out if you are a BJJ player and when you are in Hong Kong.

I had a booking for a dorm room in a guest house in the north part of Manila. According to the directions given by the guest house, it costs about 70 pesos (about a dollar and a bit) from the airport to the guest house if you get a short taxi ride to the closest station from the airport, catch a train, and then use a tricycle from the station close to the guest house. 15 pesos for the train ride. 20 pesos for the tricycle ride. These things were explicitly mentioned in the directions. The taxi fare wasn’t, but it’s because the fare can vary. I thought it would be around 35-50 pesos and it would be fair enough.

There were fixed price taxis outside the arrival terminal of the airport. To the station I wanted to go to… well, they say it costs 400 pesos or something like that. OK, that’s way different from what I expected.

I looked for another option, and found a queue of local people waiting for taxis. When you see a group of local people at this kind of place, it’s usually the right place to go. So, I decided to line up and to catch one of these taxis.

The Filipino gentleman in front of me said this taxi is much cheaper than the other ones too. There was even a sign saying “airport accredited official taxis” or something along that line. All of this information combined, it sounded very promising.

Until of course I got to the destination and the driver asked me for 380 pesos. Oh yes. That’s how much I’m supposed to pay if I catch a ride from the airport to the hostel, not from the airport to that station.

Later on, I asked the manager at the guest house about this taxi fare and he said it’s way too much. Yeah, I thought so too.

It’s such a great way to start a trip in a foreign country… not.

Perhaps I had been lucky, but I never had problems in the other places I’ve been for the last 3 months: Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

Malaysian pimps approached me a lot in Kuala Lumpur, speaking to me in Japanese, but that’s pretty much it.

There was one tuk-tuk driver in Chiang Mai who was really, really dishonest and ripping us off, but yeah. That’s about it.

Hong Kong… I ate a plate overpriced curry in the infamous Chungking Mansions, but that was clearly my fault: I didn’t check the price of the curry.

Of course, I’m pretty sure there are people who try to rip you off anywhere and everywhere. I’m aware that some people think that’s the way to survive… probably the only way. Perhaps some of them feel the need to deceive others in order to survive.

I believe honesty is the best policy though. If I get a bad experience from some product or service and feel ripped off or deceived, then I do not want to have that experience again.

I really liked some of the local restaurants I went to in Chiang Mai. They cooked great meals for me, and they were great people. I’d be happy to go there again and again and I’d bring some friends as well. It’s really simple like that. If you provide great value, people will react to it.

There’s another taxi driver who ripped me off in Manila as well. So, now I’m avoiding taxis altogether. Am I being too defensive about it? Maybe. There might be great taxi drivers who are honest and deliver great services, but now the likelihood of my meeting them in Philippines is, sadly, very low.

The main reason I came to Philippines was because of Pan Asian Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championship. I also wanted to train with some good Brazilian Jiu Jitsu players in Manila as well. After all, that’s what I do as a vagabonding martial artist.

But after the competitions, I felt I needed to get away from Manila. I’m not going to lie or pretend to be nice, but Manila is a giant mess. Dirty, polluted, and unorganized. I wanted to get away from this city.

After some researches, I decided to go to Puerto Galera. It takes a 2 hour bus ride and 1 hour boat trip to get from Manila to Puerto Galera. Close. Not as costly as going to other places. So, I hopped on a bus and headed to Batangas Port.

When I got to Batangas Port, I wasn’t sure which terminal to catch a boat from. Some guy approached me and asked me how much I’d be willing to pay for a ferry ride to Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera. I asked him about the ferry tickets and he said 4000 pesos. That was very different from what I researched, because it’s suppose to cost something like 200-300 pesos. After mentioning this, he pointed another terminal to me and realized what I was looking for was a public boat rather than a gorgeous ferry.

These terminals are quite straight forward, but when you don’t know what’s around where, you might act as if you have no clue… I mean, you have no clue, so unless you purposefully try to act as if you know everything, the chances are, you’d end up acting as if you have no clue. Anyway, that was me. Two guys approached me and asked me where I’m going. I told them I’m going to Sabang Beach.

Now… I knew that it’s generally not a good idea to listen to these nice and friendly people at a place like this, but I didn’t remember it at that time. So, these nice and friendly guys took me to a ticket booth, helped me get a ticket and pay an environment fee, offered to hold the tickets for me even when I said no, and what happened was them asking me for tips of 100 pesos. Oh yes, Sir. I didn’t even ask you guys to help me.

I planned to stay in Puerto Galera for 6 days. I’ll make the story short here: I ended up coming back to Manila after 3 nights.

The only budget guest house in the Sabang Beach area looked promising from their website. I actually overlooked some negative reviews about this place, thinking that perhaps some people who weren’t used to traveling left negative reviews like that.

The guest house was located in a small village right near the ocean. I actually do recommend this place if you are interested in this kind of environment and coming to this place in a good season when there are other people staying at the guest house.

I have no idea when the last guest before me stayed at this guest house. I think it was a while ago.

I came to Puerto Galera, feeling low, desiring to escape a big, messy city, and I got sick after sleeping (alone) in their 20-bed dorm room at this guest house. I’m pretty sure it’s due to the unclean nature of the room that made me sick, because I got better as soon as I left this guest house and Puerto Galera.

By the way, if you’ve seen a cockroach in your dorm room and leave it and leave you bag open on the floor, there’s a chance of that cockroach jumping out of your bag when you pick it up from the floor. This is a lesson I learned in that room.

I felt like what the hell I was doing there, not wandering around much in Puerto Galera, because the major part of my activities there was just taking a walk from the guest house to Sabang Beach to get some cheap bread and bananas and reading some books in the dirty dorm room.

I did see some amazing views at the beach, though.

Speaking of walks, when I was walking on the Sabang Beach, there was this guy selling sunglasses. I told him I’m not interested. Then he said it’s a pair of Oakley sunglasses that he’s selling. It somehow really pissed me off for some reasons. Again, I understand that he’s doing it for survival and he may not know any better, but I’m sure one can always look for a better way. I haven’t checked the sunglasses he was selling, and I have no evidence or support for saying what I’m going to say now, but I bet his Oakley sunglasses were fake ones. I’m sure there’s a better way than walking around the beach and hoping to catch an unsuspecting tourist.

I don’t know, but I don’t think I was actually mad at that guy himself. I think I got pissed off at people who do similar things. Walking around, hoping to catch unsuspecting tourists and trying to sell things no one’s really interested in buying.

This does make me think though – am I creating and providing enough value instead of ripping people off in one way or another?

By the way, after a very short stay in the area, I came to the conclusion that it’s a place for divers and people who can spend something like $60 a day. It’s not that touristy, but it’s still designed as a resort place, I believe. It wasn’t a place for a budget traveler like me.

On the bus ride back from Batangas Port to Manila I took, the conductor of the bus asked me to pay the bus fare a couple of minutes after I had paid him. He was pretending he didn’t receive it, but I insisted that I had paid him, and he stopped asking for more payment.

This kind of behaviour puzzles me.

After coming back to Manila, I was to head to another guest house in the south of Manila, because it was the cheapest one in Manila and I was intrigued by the fact that the owner is Japanese.

I hadn’t figured out how to get there beforehand (my bad habit), so I decided to go to SM Mall of Asia, where you can have access to free wifi. This mall is supposed to be the biggest mall in Asia. The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu championships took place in a part of this mall as well.

I still didn’t figure out a way to get to the guest house, but I decided to get closer to there by going south anyway, using a jeepney. Jeepney is a pick up truck with roof and a common public transport.

At the jeepney station at the mall, I met a group of friendly Filipino people – An elderly lady, two daughters of her, the lady’s friend, another lady and this lady’s husband. They told me they were going to the same area as the one I wanted to go to and offered me to take me to that guest house.

Should I have flagged a red alert because they were nice and friendly people? Maybe. Maybe not.

The elderly lady liked me a lot, and she said she’d treat me like her son. It’s very nice of her, you know. Especially after feeling low and having negative experiences.

She said she’s a wedding dress designer in Cebu. That was Friday, and Saturday was her birthday. Apparently, that’s why some of them came to Manila to celebrate her birthday.

It took a while for us to get to the guest house I wanted to go to, but they came all the way to take me there. It was really kind of them. They invited me to join the birthday celebration and wanted me to come along with them after I checked in at the guest house.

I could say no. But I didn’t. I wanted to show my gratitude and celebration to them for taking care of me even though it was a brief time, by celebrating the lady’s birthday together.

As I think about it, I made a mistake here, though. I clearly remember considering an option I had, but I didn’t choose it. Probably that was the major mistake that led me to trouble later on. The option I’m talking about is not saying no to the birthday celebration, but something else.

We went to a Filipino restaurant, had some roasted chicken and rice. The birthday lady paid for everyone, including me. Her friend whispered to me and said, “Don’t worry, she’s rich.”

I really enjoyed the food as well as their company, especially because they treated me well. I thought it was a positive experience I will remember, after all the negative ones in Philippines.

After the early dinner, we headed to a karaoke place. I don’t think we stayed there for that long. Perhaps 2 hours at most. I remember checking my phone to see what time it was. It was around 8.30pm or so, and that wasn’t long before we left that place.

We had fun singing, dancing, and drinking. I’m not really a karaoke fan per se, but I love singing. When I was singing Radiohead’s song “Creep”, I cried a bit. To be honest with you, this song describes what I was feeling when I started the journey to become a better man. Or the feelings I was feeling as a teenager. Or what-the-hell-I’m-doing-here-in-Philippines feelings. So I cried a bit.

I told the birthday lady how much I appreciated her for taking care of me. After all the negative experiences, it felt great to spend some fun time like that.

I’m not a heavy drinker, San Miguel isn’t that strong, I don’t get drunk easily, and I was well aware that I wanted to go to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training next day. I didn’t drink that much.

But the funny thing is, I have no memory about what happened after the karaoke place. I have a vague memory of going to a hostel room or something and sleeping there. I’m not sure if it was straight after the karaoke place or there was something before that.

Perhaps I should have gone home after the karaoke place, telling them I have training tomorrow morning. That could have been a smart move I could make.

When we got up, I think it was around 6pm or so. I remember it was quite early. We got out of the hostel room. I can’t remember what she said, but the birthday lady’s friend convinced me to give her 500 pesos, and somehow I thought it was appropriate to do so. Was it for the food and beer and hostel room, which the birthday lady had covered on behalf of me? I remember thinking it was fair enough anyway.

Then there was McDonald’s. Now I think about it, I don’t remember much about that morning either, but I believe we went to McDonald’s and had pancakes or something. Or maybe we didn’t. We just walked past McDonald’s. My memory is being really fuzzy about the Friday night and the Saturday morning.

I said goodbye to them and somehow made it back to the guest house.

This guest house was far away from the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club I wanted to train at. I figured it would take 2 hours to get there, but it ended up taking me more than 2 hours, and I missed their morning session.

But there was a Judo training session in the afternoon, and I trained with them. They were all very good.

It was a bit depressing to think that it would take another 2 to 3 hours to go back to the guest house. I was wondering if I could find a jeepney going from EDSA to Sucat, the area I was staying. So, I asked this jeepney guy and he wasn’t sure, but another driver was like, “Yes, I’m going to Sucat”. And then he drove and drop me off at somewhere very close – another jeepney station and told me that I can catch another jeepney or taxi from there. I was sitting next to him, not in the back of the car, and I got pissed off at what I perceive as a shameless money grabbing behaviour. No, I didn’t knock him down or anything, but I got off the jeepney, slammed the door, and walked away.

A minute later, I realized I left my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu uniform and my belt. The jeepney, gone. My Brazilian Jiu Jitsu uniform and my belt, gone.

I still have a jacket for a competition use, but no pants, no belt. Yes, I’m a vagabonding martial artist! But I have no uniform to wear right now. (Note for grapplers: I do have my grappling shorts and rash guards. Maybe I should give up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and switch to submission wrestling…)

Despite the lack of my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu uniform and my belt, I checked out from that guest house on Monday and headed to a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu morning training session. I decided to change from that guest house, because it was way too far.

I managed to get to the training session on time, and people there let me borrow a spare pair of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu pants and a belt. I had a good training session there.

After the session, I was to head to a new guest house supposedly closer to this Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club. I wasn’t sure of the exact direction, so I went to a cafe nearby and used their free-wifi to do some more research.

While doing this research, it came to my mind that I should check exactly how much money I still had so I can make plans for further trips.

I had a rough idea of how much I had, so it was more like a double check.

My first reaction after opening the account balance page:


Capital letters and the f-bomb are totally appropriate here to describe my feeling at that moment.

There was only 600 yen left. In US dollars, it’s about 7 dollars. In Euro, it’s about 6 Euro.

I checked transaction records. There were 5 withdrawals that I didn’t recognize. Each one was 20050 yen. Times 5? 10,0250 yen. Something like 1250 US dollars/980 Euro.

What happened to that much money?


That morning, I withdrew some money to pay for the new guest house I was to stay at for 7 nights. I did have enough money left apparently, but of course, I hadn’t realized that this money I withdrew was the left over after these unknown transactions were made.

Taking advantage of the free wifi at the cafe, I immediately made a call to my bank in Japan and asked for assistance. According to them, these transactions were made around 11:30pm in Japan time on Friday. That means, if they were made in Philippines, it would be around 10:30pm.

Oh, OK, I was probably sleeping in an unknown place around that time. Did I have my cash card with me? Yes, but not in my pocket or anything. My cards were hidden in my bag. Unless you search for them thoroughly, you won’t find them. Did I tell anyone my pin number? No. Was I threatened to give money to someone? No. No gun to the head.

Given the situation, though, unless my cash card was skimmed somewhere and someone abused it on Friday night, I have to doubt the nice and friendly Filipino people who made me feel like home after a number of negative experiences. This sucks.

By the way, the option I was talking about before… the option I had after I checked in at the guest house these friendly people helped me to get to was this: Leave my messenger bag and every valuable item and just bring some cash.

But I somehow chose to bring my bag. With my cards hidden in it.

Did this experience make me wiser as a traveler? Yeah, surely.

But it hurts… it hurts to doubt people. It hurts to act cold and closed towards people. I know that not everyone is like that. But still. I wonder if it’s because I’m afraid of being an asshole and want people to like me. I wonder. Yes, I wonder.

It may sound strange, but these negative experiences and how I’m turning colder remind me of the male-female dynamics, which I’m interested in and write about.

Is this why some women act cold towards men? After so many negative experiences they got from men?

I wish to live in a world where I don’t have to doubt people.

Anyway, I was naive and careless. I should be grateful that I’m still alive, even though my money’s gone.

Even if my bank decided that they’d get me my money back, apparently it would take 2 weeks.

I applied for a visa reference number for Iran and I asked to receive my tourist visa here in Manila. I’ve been waiting for the reference number.

I have a flight booked for Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam on 30 May and will arrive there on 31 May (it’s a late night flight).

Then I have a plan to fly to Malaysia on 13 June, because you can fly from Kuala Lumpur to Tehran for a reasonably low fare (around 260-320 USD one way).

My plan was to spend 2-3 weeks in Iran, and then to head to Turkey via train.

These plans may change, given that I have only little money left. My mother can help me and send me some money, and I will get paid for the last month’s translation gig on 31 May, though there wasn’t much work last month and it will be a small amount. But, I figure I can make it to Vietnam and Malaysia at least…

Or can I? Right now, I’m not really sure.

What are the lessons from these experiences? What are the positive things in these negative things?

To be honest, it’s hard to pin down what these lessons and positive things are. It really sucks to be in this situation. One thing for sure is that I feel calm somehow. I’m not sure how I will make it, but I know, or rather, I must believe I will make it somehow. This is the spirit of no worries. But what about other things?

These experiences teach me what I don’t like and what kind of person I don’t like to be. Of course, I don’t want to make a living by deceiving people. But what I refer to by “what kind of person I don’t like to be” is the kind of person who acts cold and ignores seemingly cunning people. I think what I need to be is to be assertive and to make it clear that I don’t want to be treated in certain ways, without being aggressively cold and indifferent. I may be wrong, and I need to learn more to come to a better conclusion that I can be satisfied with and practice.

What I don’t like is to be treated like a money bag. That’s for sure. Such treatments made me think of how I want to be treated… or rather, what I want. It’s very simple. I just want to be loved for who I am. How simple is that. But in this world, it can be too much to ask for. And many of us are looking for someone who can love them for who they are.

If not love, some empathy and understanding would do.

What this teaches me is that I should offer love, empathy and understanding as much as I can. Again, I may end up getting ripped off by doing so, and that thought makes me cautious, sadly. So, there’s a conflict. I’m not going to deny it. But I do sense people want love, empathy and understanding. I do, at least.

This trip that I had expected to last longer may finish soon. I don’t know.

What I know is that I want to keep going somehow and I will find a way somehow. That’s how I feel right now.

I may have been knocked down, but it’s not finished yet. I can stand up again and again. May these experiences make me stronger and wiser.